The pain and suffering that are so often part of the relationship between the Jewish people and our beloved homeland, the ייסורין which Chazal felt were an unavoidable part of our acquisition of the land, ארץ ישראל נקנית ביסירין, are so common that, G-d forbid, we risk losing our sensitivity to one of the most important equations in all of yahadut. A person is an עולם מלא, a whole world, irreplaceable, and the tragic murder of any of our brothers and sisters must- absolutely must-resonate with us.
As such, last week’s murder of four of our brothers, Harel Masood, 21, of Yad Binyamin, Elisha Anteman, 17, of Eli, Ofer Fayerman, 64, of Eli, and Nachman Mordoff, 17, of Ahiya, by ruthless and barbaric terrorists, must touch us to the very core of our being.
The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that mitzvah of fraternal love, אהבת רעים, which appears in the framework of a prohibition for us to avenge ourselves on one another, or even to bear grudges, is based on the principle that the Jewish people are like limbs that belong to the same body. If one part of the body is injured, the entire body is impacted, and certainly, experiences pain and anguish.
Even if we may not be in a direct position to influence the situation, we still have obligations in terms of how we respond, not, G-d forbid, to be amongst those who are oblivious to the pain of the community, regarding whom Rambam ruled that they had forfeited their portion in the World to Come. And the most basic obligation is to familiarize ourselves with what was lost, and not simply conduct ourselves as if it is עולם כמנהגו נוהג.
We don’t have hespedim on Shabbos under normal circumstances, but we should still know something. And, as my predecessor Rabbi Feldman, zt’l, used to point out, a hesped is prohibited because, as the gemara notes, it causes us to cry, which is not consistent with the spirit of Shabbos. But a eulogy, meaning good words, are fully appropriate, if only to give us a sense of who our brothers were.
And so, I would like to share that I learned that Elisha Anteman was a twelfth grader and recent graduate of Bnei Akiva high school in Eli, and worked as a waiter in the restaurant next to the gas station where the shooting took place. This was his home. There he lived, and there, to our great pain, he died.
Nachman Mordoff, who was also seventeen, was a gentle and quiet soul. He found his niche taking care of animals, sheeps and goats, in the quiet hills surrounding his home. He was a very gentle boy who felt very connected to the Land of Israel.
Harel Masood had literally just been discharged from the army. He was beginning to find his place in civilian life. In his brother Dvir’s eulogy, Dvir mentioned that he had just given his brother a new shirt because he was going on a date. It is painful to know that he will never have the pleasure of building a family life.
Ofer Fayerman just happened to be filling his car with gas when the terrorists came. He was a loving and doting father. His son, Matanel, told a story in his hesped for his father that his Dad would come to visit him on his army base and bring him schnitzel for Shabbos. But, there was never a full tray, as Ofer always made sure to give some to the guard at the front of the base.
And so, even from a physical distance of six thousand miles, our hearts ache for the loss of our brothers, and for the unimaginable pain of their families.
And yet, my heart is also filled with a different kind of pain, one which has much to do with the tragedy of this morning’s sedra, and that is pain for kevod shamayim, the honor of Heaven.
Korach, Chazal teach us, was an intelligent and deeply spiritual person. As one of the בני קהת, he merited not only to carry the כלי הקודש, but he was actually from the elite of the elite, מנושאי הארון היה, he carried the holiest of all of the vessels, which contained the luchot.
And, yet, despite his great stature, he was consumed by rage. As Rashi cites from the Midrash, he felt he should be the Nasi of the family of Kehat amongst the Levi’im, a position that was given by Moshe, at Divine instruction, to his younger cousin, Elitzafan ben Uziel.
And, this rage burned within him, and it eventually led him to the calamity of his rebellion against Moshe, Aharon, and Hashem himself. Ultimately, perhaps swallowed by the earth itself, perhaps incinerated in Divine flame, Korach was consumed by his rage.
But, it did not only consume him. As the Netziv of Volozhin explains, Korach, due to his great stature, was able to influence the entire people to join in the rebellion, ויקהל עליהם קרח את כל העדה.
And, as such, not only did he and his fellow conspirators die, but a plague ensued in the camp in the wake of his rebellion, costing the lives of 14,7000 Jews, or nearly five times those that died in the plague which followed the Golden Calf. Anger destroys.
The gemara in Eruvin tells us that character is revealed in certain situations.
אָמַר רַבִּי אִילְעַאי, בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים אָדָם נִיכָּר: בְּכוֹסוֹ, וּבְכִיסוֹ וּבְכַעְסוֹ. (עירובין סה:)
The final element of the triad is anger. In moments when we experience rage and anger, character is revealed.
And, for the second time in just a number of months, there was a response to this barbaric terror attack, in a moment of rage, which is completely inconsistent with Torah, with halakha, with the basic values of yiddishkeit.
While I still do not know all of the details, fellow Jews- Torah observing Jews- chose to take out their rage on innocent Palestinians in nearby villages completely unconnected to the terror attack. Cars and property were burned. Stones were hurled.
And, there were reports of physical assault and even a fatality, though at present I do not know the veracity of these details, and so, we must be very careful.
There were later reports of those who continued to riot on Shabbos itself, driving in cars to these indiscriminate attacks. The gravity of such a transgression can hardly be described: a chillul Shabbos to perform a chillul Hashem. What can one say?
There was imagery of desecration of the Quran in a mosque. What a contrast it brought to mind with my revered Rebbe, HaRav HaGa’on Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, zt’l, who, after the torching of a mosque in Beit Fajjar, near Bethlehem, led a delegation of Rabbonim to bring the Quran to the destroyed mosque as a gesture of peace.
There are those who will object to this behavior as they believe it is provocative, and could lead to more terrorism and violence. I do not know if this is true, as it seems to me that there are already a large number of people who seem maximally motivated to kill innocent Jews.
There are others who will object to this behavior as they feel that it gives Israel a negative image in the world. While there is something to be said for this, it seems to be at best secondary, as I think there are plenty of people prepared to blame Israel for everything even without these kinds of disgraceful events.
The real reason to object to this behavior, rather, is the behavior itself. Torah and halakha do not justify, in any sense, attacking innocent people in rage and vengeance.
When the residents of Givon avenged themselves on seven innocent members of the house of Shaul for his murder of the Kohanim of Nov, David HaMelech, as the gemara in Yevamot (79a) explains, permanently banned them from marrying into the Jewish people.
David noted, the Jewish people are defined by the virtues of compassion, modesty, and acts of loving kindness, and a culture of unjustified violence and aggressive vengeance is just simply incompatible with our Torah.
Korach brought disaster and destruction on himself and the Jewish people on account of his rage. Those who assaulted, in body or in property, innocent people created בצלם אלוקים in their rage this week disgraced the Torah, and we cannot remain silent in the face of this behavior being taken by Jews who conceive of themselves, and are perceived by others, as Torah observant Jews.
We must denounce this behavior in the strongest possible terms. It does not represent Torah, nor does it represent us.
A number of months ago, during the rocket attacks in Rechovot, congregants in Israel sent me a photo of Israeli soldiers covering a four year old boy named Yair with their bodies.
As you may know from the photo, he had become separated from his family, and there had been some kind of a difficulty with the Iron Dome in Rechovot that day, and so they literally covered him with their bodies.
I had the photo blown up into the posterboard we all walked by on our way into shul this morning, because it captured something essentially different about the Jewish people and the terrorists who seek our destruction. We cover innocent children with our bodies, and they cover their bodies with innocent children.
It is precisely this fundamental moral distinction, one so deeply rooted in the life affirming values of Torah, which is the source of our strength.
And, G-d forbid, if we allow ourselves, in moments of justifiable rage, to lose our moral compass, and commit indefensible acts, like Korach, we will destroy ourselves.
May Hashem have mercy upon His people and upon His Land, and indeed, avenge himself upon the brutal murderers of our brothers. As we daven every week, ונקיתי דמם לא נקיתי וה׳ שוכן בציון. May Hashem, via the security forces, and the security forces alone, avenge the blood of our fallen brothers and sisters, and destroy the terrorists and all of those who support them.
And, at the same time, may He give us the strength to keep faith with our precious tradition, sanctified by generations who came before us, and never to attack innocents, שלשה סימנים באומה זו, רחמנים, ביישנים, וגומלי חסדים.